23rd Jul2014

Harris calls for Gaza ceasefire

by TH

Tom Harris has called for an “urgent ceasefire” in Gaza and “an end to the pattern of rocket attacks and periodic occupation that has left both sides living in fear.”

And the Glasgow South MP called for a full international inquiry into claims that Hamas have used “human shields” to conceal their weaponry, deliberately increasing the number of Palestinian civilian casualties for propaganda purposes.

He made the comments in a letter to constituents who have contacted him to express their concern at the recent renewed fighting between Israel and Hamas militants.

Tom wrote:

Thank you for contacting me recently regarding the continuing violence in Gaza and southern Israel.

I share your grave concern about this crisis and at the spiral of violence we have seen over the last fortnight. As ever, it is the civilian population that is suffering most from this conflict and it is now vital that both sides call a lasting ceasefire and work toward a peaceful, negotiated settlement.

More than 1850 rockets have been fired at Israel from Gaza in the last fortnight, which is an intolerable situation for any government. Hamas’s main aim seems to be to provoke an Israeli backlash and the negative publicity such a backlash would incur for them.

The scale of the suffering in Gaza – which has already cost more than 580 Palestinian lives, most of whom are civilians and many of whom are innocent children – is also unacceptable and risks fuelling yet more extremism and conflict.

The people of Israel have a right to live without fear for their security, just as the people of Gaza have a right to live in peace. However, I believe the escalation we have seen in recent days has served only to bring more suffering to Palestinians and will make it harder to bring about lasting security.

That is why there now needs to be an urgent ceasefire and an end to the pattern of rocket attacks and periodic occupation that has left both sides living in fear.

However, I reject the allegation that Israel is collectively punishing Palestinians. How likely is it that a liberal democracy such as Israel, dependent on international support, would deliberately target innocent civilians? And how much more likely is it that Hamas, recognised across the world and in the UK as a terrorist organisation, which has carried out a horrific number of political executions among its own people, has – as has been widely reported – been hiding its weaponry behind human shields in hospitals and schools?

Surely what is needed is a full investigation into whether these reports are true.

Ultimately, there can be no military solution to this problem and it is only by politics and negotiation that lasting peace can be achieved. I call on Hamas to now stop their rocket attacks, for Israel to end its military operation in Gaza and for both sides to recognise the need to return to negotiations on a wider political settlement.

I also hope that the UK Government continue to work with the United Nations and our international allies to achieve a lasting ceasefire.

Thank you once again for writing to me and for sharing your views. I can assure you that I will continue to bear them in mind as this crisis develops.

 

UPDATED 25 JULY 2014

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10th Jul2014

Going nuclear

by TH

On site at Sellafield (left to right): Tom Harris MP, Adrian Bailey MP, Bridget Phillipson MP, Baroness Prosser, Ian Mearns MP and Robin Walker MP

Glasgow South MP Tom Harris saw at first hand the challenges facing the nuclear power industry when he joined colleagues on a fact-finding visit to Selllafield nuclear processing plant in Cumbria today.

The site employs over 10,000 people, who are engaged in waste management, decommissioning and construction. The cross-party visit by MPs and peers involved a briefing on the key activities and a tour of some of the major legacy sites, including the Pile Fuel Storage Pond Facility. This was an opportunity for parliamentarians to see at first hand the challenges created by the original nuclear reactors that were built at Sellafield in the 1950s and 60s, that didn’t consider the future clean-up of the nuclear material and waste as the reactors came off-line.

In addition to the discussion around the technical challenges faced at Sellafield, attendees also discussed the contributions that the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), Nuclear Management Partners (NMP) and Sellafield Ltd are making to economic regeneration in Cumbria, particularly in relation to skills and building capacity for future nuclear activities in the area.

The high-level skills required by companies like Sellafield Ltd are a key problem for the future of UK industry and therefore require substantial investment in skills to ensure the continued success of those businesses in the long-term. This is particularly the case for the nuclear industry and in West Cumbria and the parliamentarians were able to discuss the important contribution Sellafield Ltd is making in expanding its apprenticeship programme and providing continued opportunities for young people.

Tom said: “This was a fascinating visit and I’m grateful to Sellafield Ltd and the Industry and Parliament Trust (IPT) for making sure it happened. Everyone knows the name ‘Sellafield’ but few people are aware of exactly what happens there, the professionalism of the workers there and the vital role it plays in the nuclear power generation industry of the UK.”

The civil nuclear industry founded at the site in the years after the end of the Second World War was a by-product of Britain’s early attempts to create its own nuclear deterrent.

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02nd Jul2014

‘Scrap VAT on eBooks’

by TH

The government risks damaging the publishing industry by applying VAT unfairly on eBooks while exempting physical hard copies from the same tax.

In an adjournment debate in the House of Commons today, Glasgow South MP Tom Harris warned that changes to how VAT is levied, which come into force in January, could stifle the recent growth in the sale of eBooks for reading on electronic devices like Kindles and iPads.

Currently customers pay the level of tax that applies in the country from where an eBook is sold. That means that those who buy a book on Amazon’s Kindle store, for example, pay the three per cent level of VAT that applies in Luxembourg. But from the beginning of 2015, VAT in EU countries must be levied in the country where the buyer lives. So British customers will see the price of books rocket by up to 20 per cent.

Tom told Treasury minister Andrea Leadsom that buyers are very sensitive to marginal cost increases. He said: “Ofcom research shows that the willingness to pay for a single book download declines steadily as the proposed price of a book download increases. The average price that respondents were willing to pay was £3.74. About 42 per cent of people were willing to buy an e-book at £5. Once VAT at 20 per cent was added, bringing the cost up to £6, the proportion of consumers willing to buy it fell dramatically to 28 per cent.”

And he added: “E-books are a British success story and have helped to drive the recovery of the UK publishing industry since the financial crisis of 2008. Consumers in the UK are already the biggest e-commerce spenders in the world, and have been fastest in the EU to embrace e-books, partly because of the huge choice of English language books, partly because of competition and choice in e-book readers, and in large part because of the price competitiveness of e-books. That has brought big new opportunities to readers, writers and publishers.

“Do the Government still accept that we should promote reading and literacy and do all in our power to widen reading and literacy? I know, of course, that the genuine answer from the Minister will be yes, but should we not therefore widen our support for print books to their digital equivalent? Are the Government willing to engage with the European Commission to hasten the completion of its impact study assessment of options to reform EU VAT rules, including those affecting VAT on e-books? Should the Government not be standing up to Europe and following the examples of France, Germany and Luxembourg by insisting on a substantially lower rate of VAT on e-books? This is one area where I would like to see a race to the bottom. I want the Government parties and my own party competing in the next few months leading up to the general election to see who can offer the lowest rate of VAT on e-books, because consumers, readers and authors, not politicians, would emerge the winners.”

Read the full transcript of Tom’s speech here. Watch the video of the debate here.

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25th Jun2014

Crossrail revisited

by TH

Former minister for the multi-billion pounds Crossrail project, Tom Harris, was invited to inspect progress at a central London site today.

Tom was one of a number of former transport ministers invited to take a trip deep below the surface of city streets to see for themselves how much progress has been made on the £15 billion scheme, which will deliver a high frequency, high capacity service to 40 stations, linking Reading and Heathrow in the west, to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east via 21 km of new twin-bore tunnels under central London.  It will bring an additional 1.5 million people within 45 minutes’ commuting distance of London’s key business districts.

Crossrail is the largest infrastructure project in Europe and it’s estimated it will bring economic benefits worth £42 billion to the whole of the UK in the 30 years after construction is completed in 2018.

Tom was the Minister charged with taking the Crossrail Bill through its final parliamentary stages to Royal Assent in 2008.

He said: “It’s hard to believe the scale of this project until you see it up close. I remember when I was first briefed about Crossrail, refusing to believe that a project of this scale and ambition could be successfully completed on time, or even at all! But it is testament to the outstanding skills of the engineers involved that half of the tunnels have already been completed.

“Crossrail will be an outstanding addition to the infrastructure of our capital city and I can’t wait to see the first trains use it in 2018.”

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21st May2014

Campaigning for a Labour Europe

by TH

Cathcart Labour Party played host to all of Labour’s six European parliamentary candidates this afternoon, as the nationwide campaign draws to a close.

Glasgow South MP Tom Harris and local activists joined sitting MEPs David Martin and Catherine Stihler along with the other four list candidates – Derek Munn, Katrina Murray, Asim Khan and Kirsty O’Brien.

Tom said: “It was a real pleasure welcoming all six of Labour’s Euro candidates here to Cathcart. We have a truly impressive range of candidates, as well as two of the most experienced and able sitting MEPs in Scotland. We got a lot of doors knocked and a lot of Labour promises recorded. It’s vital that we get Labour’s positive message across in the few hours left until polls open tomorrow.”

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25th Apr2014

Shadow Cabinet’s ‘Better Together’ message

by TH

Senior Shadow Cabinet members were in Cathcart today to persuade local voters to stick with the UK.

Chief Whip Rosie Winterton, her Lords Opposite number, Steve Bassam, and Shadow Housing Minister Emma Reynolds were welcomed to the constituency by local MP Tom Harris and a team of Better Together activists, who joined them to knock on doors in the Braehead area.

“Colleagues representing English and Welsh seats work together with Scotland’s parliamentarians at Westminster every day for the benefit of the whole country,” said Tom.

“It was fantastic to see them take to the streets of Cathcart to explain the importance of defeating the separatists’ plans to break up our country.”

 

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25th Apr2014

Vicki honoured at King’s Park awards

by TH

A 17-year-old pupil at King’s Park Secondary yesterday became the latest young person to receive the Citizenship Award sponsored by local MP Tom Harris.

Vicki Laurie, a sixth year pupil, was presented with the award in recognition of her work in charge of the charities committee, which has raised hundreds of pounds for local and national causes, including Comic Relief and Children in Need.

Tom said: “Vicki is an extremely impressive young woman and i’m delighted that the Citizenship Award has again gone to a very worthy winner.”

King’s Park’s annual prize-giving ceremony took place at Cathcart Old Parish Church on Thursday evening.

 

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27th Dec2013

Cameron rules out change in bereavement leave law

by TH

David Cameron has dashed the hopes of campaigners hoping to give bereaved parents a legal right to paid time off.

Despite a positive response to a question from Glasgow South MP Tom Harris on the subject, the Prime Minister has now confirmed that the government will not support any change to the relevant legislation.

In a letter to Tom, the Prime Minister said: “I know from personal experience how profoundly a parent is affected by the loss of a child. Although there is no statutory right for bereavement leave, the majority of employers respond to such an event with compassion and understanding, offering their employees the support that they need to take time off and to begin to deal with the consequences of this tragic event.

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04th Dec2013

Tom joins the fight against fixed-odds betting machines

by TH

Glasgow South MP Tom Harris has joined Westminster colleagues to call for action against the “crack cocaine of gambling” in the High Street.

Fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) are touch screen electronic gaming machines found in betting shops across the United Kingdom. They host a variety of games, ranging from casino games such as Roulette, Poker and Black Jack, to electronic slot games and virtual racing. Punters can bet up to £100 per spin every 20 seconds on casino games and up to £2 per spin on slot games.  No other gaming machine allows such high speed, high stake play.

The government already has the power to reduce the maximum bet of £100 to £2.00, but has refused to do so.

A study by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) in 2007 concluded that FOBTs should be closely monitored because of the possibility of problem gambling.

“Having met one young person whose early life was nearly destroyed by his problem gambling and addiction to FOBTs, I am convinced the government needs to take urgent action to protect people from this activity,” said Tom.

Click here for more information about the campaign against FOBTs.

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09th Oct2013

Standing up for press freedom

by TH

Glasgow South MP Tom Harris has criticised his party’s stance on newspaper regulation and called on parliament to reject parliament’s Royal Charter implementing Lord Leveson’s recommendations.

Tom, a former journalist, warned that reasonable though the existing proposals might appear, giving parliament any role whatever in the new system could lead to greater controls in future. This is the original text of the article which appeared in today’s Daily Telegraph and Mirror:


There are, fortunately, very few instances of a financially sound business choosing to close itself down and bring to a premature end the contracts of its 200 employees.

You might expect such an event to be loudly protested by politicians, particularly politicians of the Left, and especially if the owner of the business in question was a hate figure representing everything the Left despises about global capitalism.

You would be wrong, of course. Because when, in the wake of the phone hacking scandal, it was announced that the News of the World was closing its doors, no-one protested. No-one marched. No-one printed stickers defending jobs against the brutality of the Murdoch empire.

These were, after all, (largely) journalists’ jobs. And for most people in the Labour Party, journalists, especially those working for Murdoch and the other press barons, are The Enemy.

Which is why there is such near unanimity in my party in favour of press regulation. Before Lord Leveson presented his conclusions, I spoke to a number of colleagues and tried to share my reservations about what the inquiry might recommend. I was discouraged by the responses of some I would normally consider to be on the sensible wing of the party who airily decreed that we (politicians in general) had been the media’s victims for long enough. The boot was on the other foot. Payback time.

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21st Sep2013

Claire honoured for citizenship efforts

by TH

A former pupil at King’s Park Secondary has become the latest recipient of the Tom Harris MP Citizenship Award.

Claire Hunter was nominated by teachers after she helped raise hundreds of pounds to help build the “Glasgow Cares Community Centre” orphanage in Manila by running a car boot sale.

Wendy Dougan, principal teacher for pastoral care at King’s Park, paid tribute to Claire for her efforts: “She really took charge of the fund-raising for the orphanage. She’s incredibly hard-working and responsible.”

“I was very impressed to learn of Claire’s efforts on behalf of children living in the Philippines,” said Tom. “She’s an articulate and conscientious young woman and a worthy recipient of this award.”

The Citizenship Award is sponsored by Tom at various secondary schools in his Glasgow South constituency and is awarded annually to a senior pupil whom teachers consider has contributed most to the principle of active citizenship.

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10th Sep2013

Charity’s seven-ton gift to city children

by TH

STANDING GUARD: Soldiers from the local TA regiment with some of the books

Glasgow children are set to receive a massive boost to their libraries, thanks to the efforts of a city-based charity.

Following the recent collapse of a well-known bookstore chain, Glasgow The Caring City, based at Cathcart Old Parish Church, managed to secure SEVEN TONS of brand new books and have transported them from a warehouse in England to Glasgow. They will now be distributed completely free to local schools and nurseries.

“This is a one-off special free offer by the Caring City,” said the Rev. Neil Galbraith, who heads the charity. A special book fayre will take place next Monday and Tuesday (16 and 17 September) at 10.00 am, to which representatives of local schools and nurseries have been invited.

Rev. Galbraith said the fare is part of the “Celebration City” and “Goal” projects, aimed at creating an enduring legacy for the city as host of the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

Local MP Tom Harris, whose staff are based at Cathcart Old Parish Church, welcomed the initiative. He said: “This is a terrific opportunity for local schools to add significantly to their pupils’ reading material. My wholehearted congratulations go to Neil and his team at the Caring City for securing this windfall.”

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28th Aug2013

‘Why we need statutory bereavement leave for parents’

by TH

Parents who suffer the loss of a child must be given a legal right to paid leave in order to grieve, a Glasgow MP has said.

Glasgow South MP Tom Harris is to introduce a Bill in the House of Commons next week which would enforce statutory bereavment leave for parents for the first time.

“Most of us can think of nothing more distressing than losing a child,” said Tom. “But few people realise that time off work, when it’s granted, is entirely at the discretion of the employer.

“Few good employers would deny grieving parents time off in such tragic circumstances, but such leave should be a working parent’s right, not to be given according to their employer’s discretion.”

Tom paid tribute to the campaign website “Jack’s Rainbow“, established by Lucy Herd, whose own son died at just 23 months of age. Lucy has also launched a petition to press the government to change bereavement leave law.

He added: “At present, all employees have the right to take immediate ‘time off for dependants’ under the Employment Rights Act 1996. This is a legal right to unpaid leave to cope with family emergencies. However, there is no set limit on how many days can be taken, only a vague definition of ‘a reasonable amount of time’. Each employer will have their own bereavement policy, which is typically just three to five days.

“In response to Lucy’s e-petition calling for statutory bereavement leave, which has attracted almost 22,000 signatures, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said that all requests for leave related to bereavement are best left for employers and their employees to decide between themselves.

(more…)

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26th Aug2013

Making it work for single parents

by TH

Glasgow South MP Tom Harris has pledged support for a campaign to boost single parent employment, run by the charity Gingerbread.

Thirty-nine per cent of families in Glasgow South are headed by single parents, many of whom struggle to balance work with caring for their children. With childcare increasingly unaffordable, a lack of school-hours jobs on offer and reduced opportunities for single parents to get training, finding a decent job can become an almost impossible task, with many single parents in work still struggling to make ends meet.

Gingerbread has launched a three-year campaign to Make it work for single parents. It’s calling on the government to support single parents to overcome the barriers they face to work and make a commitment to increasing single parent employment.

Tom said: “Any parent wants to be able to provide for their family, and we should be doing all that we can to help single parents do just that.”

Three out of five single parents in the UK are in work and the vast majority of those who aren’t in work want to be, argues Gingerbread. The charity says that investing in job growth for single parents would reap rewards for families, and public finances, finding that the treasury could make £436 million of savings a year by getting just five per cent more single parents into work.

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